Residents challenge drilling legislation
BY ROBERT SWIFT (HARRISBURG BUREAU CHIEF)
Published: January 18, 2012
HARRISBURG – A local resident referred to Dallas Township’s experience with Marcellus industry facilities Tuesday as a key reason to oppose impact fee legislation that would make the state attorney general referee in disputes over gas zoning ordinances.
“Taking local zoning controls from municipalities is not good for the citizens of Pennsylvania,” said Diane Dreier.
Dreier spoke at a Capitol rally where a coalition of groups called for defeat of impact fee legislation approved by both the Senate and House. Members of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition of Luzerne attended the rally held as lawmakers returned to session from a holiday recess.
The groups’ critique focused on provisions in both bills that they say provide for state preemption of local decision-making about drilling activities.
Both measures include provisions where a driller could ask the attorney general to determine whether a gas ordinance is reasonable or not. If a municipality persists in keeping an ordinance rejected by the attorney general, it would lose out on any impact fee revenue.
Faced with plans in recent years by gas companies to build compressor stations and other infrastructure within proximity to the Dallas school district campus, the township supervisors recently amended the zoning ordinance to balance the need for gas development with the rights of local residents and protection of property values, said Dreier.
This amendment allowed the township to put safety conditions on the siting of gas metering stations, said Dreier. The township’s ability to set these kinds of condition would end if the impact fee bills in their current form are enacted, she added.
The impact fee legislation would erode a system where land use and comprehensive plans are developed with grassroots participation, said Roberta Winters, vice president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania.
“Land use should depend on those with first hand knowledge of the terrain not those in an office with satellite technology,” she added.
The attorney general will look out for the interests of municipalities under the gas ordinance review provisions, said Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-25, Jefferson County, who drafted the Senate-approved bill.
Many municipalities where drilling is taking place lack zoning ordinances because of concerns about enforcement costs and opposition of local residents, he added.
“Nobody should be more above reproach than the attorney general,” said Scarnati.
Scarnati is pushing for a three-way agreement among the House, Senate and Corbett administration on impact fee legislation before the governor’s state budget address Feb. 7. He said it will be more difficult to find a compromise once debate over the next state budget starts.